Two weeks into the season, the new-look Boston Celtics have left little doubt they plan to be a serious contender in the Eastern Conference.
Off to their best start in 20 seasons, the Celtics look to remain the NBA’s only unbeaten team when they visit the struggling Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.
Boston, though, could be in for a bit of a challenge Tuesday as it looks to avoid a fourth straight loss to Indiana (3-3), which has dropped three in a row since winning its first three contests. The Pacers went 3-1 against Boston in 2006-07.
With coach Doc Rivers back on the bench hours after attending his father’s funeral in the Chicago area, Boston won 112-101 at New Jersey on Saturday.
Pierce scored 28 points, Allen added 27 and Garnett had 18 points and 14 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double. While the Celtics shot 45.6 percent from the field and 52.6 percent (10-for-19) from 3-point range Saturday, the team got its biggest spark from having Rivers on the sideline.
“It was a great boost of confidence,” said Pierce, who averages a team-leading 23.6 points per game. “It was a tough situation for him. He could have easily not come. It definitely brought my spirits up when I looked up and I saw him.”
Those associated with the team have lauded Rivers for the way he’s dealt with a difficult situation.
“Obviously, it is tough for him,” Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau said. “I think the big thing for him is it’s sort of an escape. I don’t know how he has balanced it, but he has been phenomenal throughout.”
Pierce, Allen and Garnett have also been phenomenal so far. They have combined to average 68.8 of the 107.6 points Boston is scoring a contest. They’ve also helped the Celtics post a league-leading 52.4 field-goal percentage and improve things on the defensive end where they are allowing 91.0 points per game - far better than the 99.2 given up last season.
Boston hopes for another solid overall effort at Indiana, where it has lost three in a row and five of its last six.
The Pacers, though, will try to bounce back after blowing a 25-point second-quarter lead in a 113-106 home loss to Denver on Saturday.
The Pacers have been outscored 62-32 in the fourth quarter of their last two games.
“In the second half, we made bad decisions and took bad shots,” forward Danny Granger said. “We have to figure out a way to close out games.”
Indiana averaged 109.0 points in winning its first three contests, but just 94.0 during its three-game skid.
O’Neal, who posted his first double-double of the season Saturday, averaged 17.5 points and 12.2 rebounds against Boston last season.